Europe's first gay mosque
A Muslim prayer centre situated in a small room in the house of a Buddhist monk in Paris has quickly taken the title of Europe’s first LGBT-friendly mosque while also stoking criticism from religious leaders that it is “an abuse of the definition of a mosque” and “against the spirit of Islam”.
The new mosque opened in the French capital’s eastern suburbs last Friday, with its founder, French-Algerian gay rights activist, Mohammed Ludovic Zahed, saying he wanted to create a safe and inclusive space for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as well as women of Muslim faith to pray together.
“It’s a radically inclusive mosque, a mosque where people can come as they are,” Zahed (pictured) told reporters.
Though a number of gay-friendly mosques now exist in the United States, Canada and South Africa, it is believed Zahed's mosque in Paris is a first for Europe.
The 35-year-old activist, who is also an expert on the Koran, said he was motivated to set up the mosque to help members of his organisation Homosexual Muslims of France, which now has over 300 members after only being established two years ago.
“In normal mosques, women have to sit in the back seats and wear a headscarf and gay men are afraid of both verbal and physical aggression,” he said.
“After performing the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), I realised that a mosque for gays was a must for gay Muslims who want to perform their prayers.”
Though the prayer centre’s exact location has not been disclosed due to worries about attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, some within France’s Muslim community have already let fly with criticisms against the mosque.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grande Mosqueé in Paris, told FRANCE 24 that the opening of a new prayer hall specifically welcoming gay Muslims went against the rules of Islam.
“The mosques that are already there accept everyone so creating one specifically for homosexuals is against the spirit of Islam. Worshippers go to a mosque to worship god, they don’t go to demonstrate their sexuality,” Boubakeur said.
“This is an abuse of the definition of a mosque.”
Boubakeur maintained that the teachings of Islam declaring homosexuality a sin were unambiguous.
“Homosexuality is condemned in 13 verses of the Koran,” he added.
“The only sexual relationship that is legitimate is between married men and women.”
Abdallah Zekri, the chairman of France’s Islamophobia Observatory which monitors Islamophic attacks for the French Council of Muslims, was also just as adamant that a gay mosque went against the words of the Prophet Muhammad.
“We know that homosexual Muslims exist but opening a mosque (for them) is an aberration,” he said.
Zahed, however, is standing firm with high hopes the mosque is just the beginning in a line of projects including a cultural centre and library.
“This is just the first step in a long-term struggle to deconstruct prejudices within Islam in France,” he told the BBC.